AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP TELECONFERENCE CALL
Tim Brown, John Smoltz & Mike Vrabel
June 23, 2020
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the American Century Championship call.
Tim Brown, John Smoltz and Coach Vrabel have joined us.
I’ll start with a question for Tim. Tim, you’ve been playing in this event since the 1990s. Now you’re coming to Edgewood Tahoe, there will be no fans on the golf course. And you remember when there were not 50,000 fans out there.
How different do you think this experience will be?
TIM BROWN: You know, it’s going to be very different, no doubt about it. Of course, that’s what makes this tournament. In the past it’s been the fans and all the craziness you get with having the fans. And God knows, I can’t imagine the 17th hole without having fans there. It’s going to be a unique experience for the players.
But I believe for the really good players it may be a little more relaxing. Those guys will be able to really concentrate and play the type of golf they’re used to playing when they’re at home without having 50,000 people yelling in their backswing.
But I’m certainly going to look forward to being there. The circumstances are unfortunate with the fans not being able to be there. But at the same time, I think continuing the tournament and having the opportunity to raise money for charity is a beautiful thing. So I’m certainly looking forward to being there and playing my part.
Q Mike, I know last year you said you wanted to have a good time, you had expectations. You went 92, 86, 82. Looks like you’re currently going in the 70s this year. How much time have you had to work with your golf game or what do you expect this year?
MIKE VRABEL: I would say that looked like our football season last year kept getting better as the season went along. I was nervous as hell. Tim’s talking about having no spectators out there. I don’t even think I could pull the club back. I’ve teed off in front of Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village and I don’t think I was that nervous, but when I teed off in front of Jack Nicklaus. But I relaxed and I’m going to miss the families.
The thing I was so shocked about was how many parents were there with their children, and it started to dawn on me that that was a much more financially sound decision for their family to go and see these athletes and the celebrities than it would be to go to a game and take them to a game.
So I think those are the people that I’m going to miss the most that those kids go out there and get autographs and get their jerseys signed and their hats signed.
Q Do you get a chance to play much golf? And what’s your offseason like before training camp starts? Did you get the RV out again, or
MIKE VRABEL: I do not. We are in Atlanta as we speak. The game starts in 23 minutes. No RV this year, we decided against it. It will be watching baseball and getting as much baseball in for Carter as I can before I go off to camp and he goes off to college. And Tyler left on Friday.
So this is a good time for all the coaches that put a lot into the offseason and the Zoom meetings to unwind, and try to get recharged before this season that we hope and are positive that’s going to happen. We’re confident and we want it to happen. We wanted it to happen as healthy as we possibly can.
Q Tim, I have a question for you. Going back to your Raider days and considering what’s been going on in our country the last month, the protests, can you define how important racial diversity was to Al Davis?
TIM BROWN: I think a lot of people don’t know because it was never promoted or advertised. Just Al did an incredible job of making sure guys were well taken care of well after their careers were over. I was once present, I sort of snuck in on a conversation that I probably wasn’t supposed to be in on, but I heard what was going on. It was really unbelievable the amount of money that he would spend, almost up to a million dollars a month, to make sure certain guys were taken care of. And the majority of those guys were in the minority.
I think he’s always done an incredible job obviously when you look Art Shell, Art Shell was the first modern day African American head coach in the NFL. And we felt pressure about that. We really felt as if Art didn’t perform well, or if the team didn’t perform well and he didn’t win games, then no other African American would get a chance.
So it was pressure on us to go out and play well and to make him look good. And thankfully we made a couple of playoffs and he had a very good record. And we really believe that opened the doors for more African American coaches to be hired in the NFL.
So Al was big on being the first, no doubt about it. I think he did a lot of things that people don’t know about. But certainly if you know him, and if you were privy to many of the things he was doing behind the scenes, I think everybody would be super impressed with his charge to make sure that minorities were well respected.
Q John, as you look at the baseball negotiations, in your mind how do you apportion blame among association and MLB? And how do you view it differently as a former player? And as an outsider do you think Rob, Tony or Bruce are in danger of getting bounced out before collective bargaining?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I can only tell you from my experiences before. The players, the one thing that I learned as a player is that what gets out in the news doesn’t always accurately describe what’s going on.
So therefore you can derive some conclusions that aren’t accurate and therefore you can create pressure in PR in the wrong department. So a lot of it is posturing at the time we were going through what we were. A lot of it is misinformation as well.
In any negotiations there’s going to be the side of each person that believes what they believe and sometimes the information that gets out gets out on purpose to create pressure on the other side.
And, look, this is unprecedented times. This is not a normal situation to just have a labor dispute. This is trying to figure out how do we have a baseball season in one of the most confusing, fear paralyzing times of our life. And I think that’s difficult in and of itself.
So I don’t think it would be fair for me to I just don’t know enough of what’s going on to levy that kind of teeter totter blame on either side. I just know that the country has anxiously and hopefully waited to see sports again and hopefully we can. I still remain optimistic even though it’s not gone well up to this point.
And if it gets to playing again look, as athletes it’s hard for us to have two sides equally as important in our life. That’s, one, we’re athletes, and that’s what we train, know and do. The other side is the big business part that’s very difficult for everyone to try to soak in and understand. So it’s a long winded answer to say until you’re in that room, you really it’s hard to speak to what’s going on unless you’re in that room caring and sharing information that a lot of other people won’t get.
Q Do you think this public dispute between the sides for both of them will hurt baseball’s popularity with either the regular fans or fans in general?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I think other than the pandemic shutting the game down, the answer would be yes. If the game is played, to what level and the amount of games will become irrelevant to the viewers. It might be more relevant to the owners and the players, that’s why they haven’t been able to get to that common ground.
But I think the sport, as long as it gets to play this year, that won’t affect what you asked.
Now, down the road there’s obviously some stumbling blocks that have to be dealt with down the road. But I think playing the sport at least 60 games, if that’s what it ends up being the end is always what makes our sport great, the World Series and the postseason. So, that’s just as equally as important as the actual season that’s played.
Q John, with the short season this year, 60 games, what do you anticipate, absolutely crazy?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I think it’s going to be awesome from a standpoint of a lot of things that you never could predict and we’ve never seen. So the older player’s going to be refreshed. The younger player’s going to be super anxious to get out there. It’s going to be a strategy so much different on the strategy and the roster and how you manipulate the roster.
But the obvious thing is the great teams that were great before this happened are still going to be great. But there’s a lot more pressure on them, because in a 60 game schedule, I think that you have 25 percent more teams that can compete that had no idea they were going to compete for 162 games.
So you’re going to see more teams have a chance in a 60 game schedule. That’s why in a first half, second half scenario, it’s a totally different philosophy than it is in 162.
I would say this like any other sport, but once you have 162 games and you know your roster is good the first two months don’t bother you, whether you’re 10 games down or eight games down you know you’re better over 162 games. Now leads and pressure of trying to get into the pressure of getting in the playoffs is going to be pressure. It’s really got a chance to be unique.
Q And every game is going to be worth more than two and a half times than a normal regular season game?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Yeah, I think so. I can see scenarios where teams who have the big three in their rotation might get creative with that. You’ll use the pitching is going to be there’s going to be a ton of pitchers anyways. But you just have the resources that you would never have over 162. So there could be some scenarios where the pitching staffs that wouldn’t be able to do what they can do for 162 might be able to do something different for 60.
So I think you’re going to see some creativity that allows a team to justify their ability to play in the playoffs. There are going to be some surprises. That I can guarantee you, and those surprises might be refreshing in the sense that you didn’t see that coming three months ago.
Q John, let me ask you, how surprised are you that it came together for the tournament this year and it’s actually taking place?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Say that again, how surprised am I that it came together?
Q That everything came together for the tournament to actually take place this year?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Like Tim Brown, I’m super excited, if nothing else, look, we love what we do. We did it all in a different form. But to give a diversion, to give somebody something to watch the fan experience is second to none, but we can’t have that for obvious reasons. So, getting out there to compete and being able play, it’s a challenger must for me. And I try to mark it down every year.
And the fact that we’re doing it is exciting, because it’s getting us closer and closer, hopefully, to just being more normal if that’s even possible with the unprecedented times we’re living in.
I’m excited that NBC is going to cover it. And I’m excited at whatever we can bring to the charities that end up becoming a beneficiary from this is exciting as well. But personally for me I miss structure. I miss I’m usually in the middle of a baseball season. And I’m trying to cram in Tahoe in the last second, try to get in and get out and go back to my job.
So I’m starving for something, as I’m sure a lot of people are starving to get back to structure, which, you know, for a lot of us has been nonexistent for a long time.
Q You mentioned competing. Let me just ask, you’ve been an apex competitor in celebrity golf for many years. And I just read in Forbes, they mentioned golf is your other sport. You defended at Diamond. What do you think, how do you think about this year? Is this your year at the American Century Championship? How do you feel about winning?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I have no excuses of my game not being ready. There hasn’t been a whole lot to do other than be able to play some golf. As I mentioned earlier, I’m counting the days and getting out in an unbelievable part of the country, even though, again, it will be without fans. I’m excited. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years of golf.
I had the opportunity to play or was going to play in four Champion Tour events this year, but those got canceled three of them got canceled or postponed. So this is I love tournaments. I love competing.
I think this year I’ll probably be less hard on myself because what I’ve learned is when I go to these things, I’m too hard on myself. The expectation’s through the roof and I end up beating myself up mentally over things that I shouldn’t be doing. And this time off has really made me realize that component won’t be there this year.
Q My question is regarding ’94. Do you see parallels, John, between ’94 stoppage and today’s disputes?
JOHN SMOLTZ: That’s a great question. I don’t think so. We’re talking about really two different eras of older generations that were teaching us younger guys of what was the past and what they’re trying to do for the future. I think it’s a really different era of generational players where it’s a young game, and rightfully so. The athletes in this game are prepared to do things that we probably weren’t prepared to do back then. And it’s a different reward system that exists today that didn’t exist back then.
I think it’s two totally different desires, if that makes sense, from the group of people that are playing today versus the group of people that were playing back in those eras. And it was an older game, it was a more older influence, it was more experience. And there was a lot of value in that back then that really helped form us at an information basis even without the technology that exists today that you got access to all kinds of information.
So I wouldn’t say it from the outside looking in that it’s the same.
Q You guys are not just superstars, but you’re also sports fans. Other than getting ready to compete in this tournament, how are you kind of feeding your sports fan Jones?
TIM BROWN: It’s been tough. So many repeat games watching Notre Dame football games, repeat games. And everything that’s on TV right now, I think the “Last Dance” was even though it’s not my sport, but it got you back into that era of basketball that I miss so much for sure.
But it’s been tough. One good thing that’s come out of my 17 year old son decided to play golf, so we’ve been playing a lot of golf together. So I guess that’s one of the ways I’ve been quenching my thirst for sports. It’s tough when there’s no live sports on, it’s really difficult when you’re a sports family anyway it’s difficult. So that part of it has been a little rough. But at the same time this has been a good time for me.
And I try to get better in every sense of the word. That’s what I’ve been focusing on better husband, better father, the whole deal. And hopefully we can come out of this and be a better person.
MIKE VRABEL: Well, obviously just got a lot of access to the Titans film and NFL film. And that’s really what it was. We had a big house full of people. My son was home from college, Boston College, and had another one and we had three two 19 year olds and an 18 year old and me in the house. So it got busy and got crowded. It looked like a fraternity house.
So we spent a lot of time together. And then when they finally let me back in the office, I think I slept outside my office waiting for them to let me back in. But as far as the sports go, it’s been a huge part of our family. It’s important to our family.
My dad raised me to love and be a great teammate, love being part of a team and the atmosphere and the bond that’s built in the locker room. So I think that’s really what we’ve missed as a family and we try to make our own locker room out of it. So that’s really what we did and we’re hoping for some normalcy, the best we can have.
JOHN SMOLTZ: For me it’s kind of funny, because I didn’t really I’ve been retired going on 11 years, and I never really watched a lot of my games. But as Tim mentioned, there’s a lot of historic games that fortunately I was part of that have been rerun. I’ve got a chance to watch them, was kind of digging it. We’re empty nesters, so my college kids were coming back home, and they obviously weren’t born when I pitched a lot of these. They were enamored that I was locked into this game that happened 30 years ago. And they asked me questions like do you remember that pitch and that batter. And, of course, I could have recited the whole game.
At one point they had to tell me I had to stop watching those. That’s what I was filling my time with was a lot of memorable games. And then the Braves had a reunion for the ’95 World Series on Zoom, and that was really cool.
It’s funny because when you retire and you get into what I’ve been into in broadcasting, you’re locked into baseball, but I never really got a chance to watch a lot of those games. So that part was pretty cool until the kids told me to move on.
Q Tim, now that Vegas has happened, what are your emotions? Because you went through this (indiscernible) local in LA, and now it’s happening again. And what are you expecting the team on the field this season?
TIM BROWN: You know, I think I got over the emotional part of the Raiders moving a couple years ago. I can remember having conversations with the head brass, trying to figure out why they were doing what they were doing. They didn’t want to do it, but they felt like they had to do it because the City of Oakland wasn’t responding the way they wanted to. So once you realize that, the question I asked is how do you expect these rich guys to perform in Las Vegas and stay out of trouble?
And their response was, hey, look, Tim, when we were in LA we had trouble. We had trouble in Oakland. We’re going to have trouble in Vegas. There’s always gonna be a couple of knuckleheads, a couple of guys, it’s never the whole team that are going to be the troublemakers.
I think from that standpoint, the one thing I wanted to see was this organization finally have their own stadium and not have to share a baseball stadium no offense, John not have to share a baseball stadium with the Oakland A’s. It’s tough to do. It’s tough to play on that, four or five games every year. So I think them getting their own stadium now.
Unfortunately, it’s in Vegas, but at the same time it’s great that it’s in Vegas because if there’s any team that can pull this off, I think it’s the Raiders. And so I think from that standpoint, it’s going to be an incredible run.
When you look at the team and where they are right now, obviously I’m a big Jon Gruden fan. If not for him I don’t have HoF by my name. I think this guy is capable of getting things done. I think he’s finally got the speed he’s been looking for; probably had it last year going into training camp but the AB blew up on everybody. He has a guy now in Henry Ruggs who can really stretch the field. And we had a guy like that back in the day, James Jett. And he didn’t catch a whole bunch of balls but he garnered a whole bunch of attention because he was a 4.1, 4.2 40 guy. So now you have a guy who’s not only fast but has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hand. It’s going to be very interesting to see what he can bring to the table.
I’m never going to count Gruden out. I think he has amazing abilities to get the best out of players. And if that being the case, I think if the team, if they hone in on what he’s trying to teach them, they can be right there at the end fighting for a playoff spot and even going deeper into the playoffs.
Q Tim, I wanted to follow up with Al Davis, who had wanted this stadium all along, and the vision for it to finally come together and seeing the Raiders with this state of the art stadium out here in Vegas.
TIM BROWN: I know a lot of people may not know, I should say, that Al Davis kept a home, a place in Vegas. So, I think he would be smiling from ear to ear right now being that the team is in Vegas.
I think you look back I got to the LA Raiders in ’88. We moved to Oakland in ’95. And when we got there, they talked about building a stadium, and Al and the city got into it. No surprise there, I guess. But then 22 years later finally the team finds a situation not in Oakland to make their home in.
So I bring that up to say only that the city had 22 years to make Oakland a permanent home, make the Raiders a permanent home in Oakland. They decided not to, for whatever reason.
But now it’s time for us to move forward and to embrace this situation with Vegas. I know the city has embraced the Raiders. Now it’s time for the Raider fans to embrace it and let’s move on and go make some great things happen.
Q I wanted to ask your take on how the Raiders have handled social awareness, especially the Black Lives Matter and making Juneteenth an official holiday for the organization.
TIM BROWN: I think if it comes from your heart then it’s a beautiful thing. But if it comes from your mind because you feel like, oh, we gotta do this because of XYZ, then it’s something totally different. And I know those guys well enough in that organization to know that this is coming from their heart. So it’s a beautiful thing.
And this is what the Raiders have always been about. I mean, I think the Raiders have always been the last act for a whole bunch of veteran players in the league because Al Davis have always given those guys the last opportunity to do something great.
I think this is sort of keeping in line with what Al was all about. And now you have an organization that understands where society is right now and for them to get out front and make this a holiday, it’s what it’s all about.
Again, to do it under pressure is one thing but to do it because it’s what you want to do and what you feel like is the right thing is what it’s all about.
Q Tim, what do you think the real chances are for having NFL football this fall? And a lot of people have asked you also about the move to Vegas. Do you think the Raiders and Las Vegas will be a good fit?
TIM BROWN: Yeah, well this question is tailor made for Mike Vrabel because I’m sure he had more information than I do. I certainly am starting to believe there will be football this year; but that’s just my thoughts and my hopes really. I don’t know about the fans.
Q I said it was all of our hopes.
TIM BROWN: Right. I don’t know if there are going to be fans in the stadium initially. But at the same time I’m hoping that the season does get started. And maybe, you know, in October things are going well, slip a couple of fans into the stadium.
But I think that’s the only thing we can hope right now is that the season can get going. If the season can get going, then I think there will be an end to the season, and I think that’s what it’s all about.
Q Do you think that Las Vegas and the Raiders will be a good fit?
TIM BROWN: I think it’s going to be a perfect fit. Like I said sort of jokingly a second ago, I don’t know if there’s another team in the league that could put (indiscernible) other than the Raiders. But I think people sort of look at the Raiders being the bad boys and all this kind of stuff.
But at the same time, now it’s time to get out and play great football. I think they’re going to have an incredible fan base, not only the original fan base, but I know the Vegas folks are clamoring for a football team. And now that they have it I think they’re going to show up and be ready to support.
Q Mike, the COVID 19 disruption and everything that’s going on with it, do you think it affects the top tier teams like the Titans more than the teams that are trying to get to that next level and make the playoffs?
MIKE VRABEL: Well, I think every year is a new year. That’s what I learned in the National Football League as a player and a coach. Everybody starts back over. There’s free agency. You add players. You lose players. There’s the draft. Player acquisition.
I would say we had as good a virtual offseason that I could have expected. I am somewhat happy that we aren’t a new staff. This staff has been together, the players; the nucleus has been with us now going on three years. I’m hopeful that when it’s safe to go back out there, we’ll be able to resume and pick up where we left off and start back over and continue to try to build a football team.
Q Certainly had a great season last year. Are you personally, yourself, worried about catching the virus?
TIM BROWN: You know, there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our football team and our players. And I know that whatever the protocols are, we will follow; and we’re always putting our players first. Their best interest is always forefront in my mind.
I don’t worry or concern myself with things that haven’t happened to me yet. So I will continue to try to follow the protocols. When the NFL tells us what that is and it’s as safe as possible time to go back to work, then we’ll go back to work under the guidelines.
Q Seems like it’s impossible to play football with social distancing.
MIKE VRABEL: I think those two things, not the type of football we want to play. Again, when the NFL tells us it’s safe and we follow the guidelines, we’re going to trust in the process and follow the game plan. And if we have to make adjustments to it, we will.
It’s an honor to be invited out there and honor to be on with two Hall of Famers. And I know Tim and what type of person he is, first and foremost, and what type of player he was and obviously the career that John has and the person he is. I appreciate them allowing me to be on with them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.